Just outside my screened porch, there are white oaks well over 200 years old, and they are loaded with acorns. Just after dawn this morning I sat there watching pieces of acorn rain down from high limbs as a grey squirrel ate his breakfast. Those white oak acorns bode well for a wide variety of wild creatures this fall and winter.

A few yards away there’s a hickory tree also loaded with nuts and I’ll bet the squirrels get on them within a couple of weeks or so. Usually they are cutting the hickory nuts up here on this high wooded ridge-top by early August. Hickories are important to squirrels because the hard hulls help wear down their teeth. Like other rodents, their teeth constantly grow, and have to be worn off on the ends because of it.

If you were an Ozark country kid back in the good ol’ days, you likely hunted squirrels. I have found that anyone above the age of 50 can be judged by whether they hunted squirrels or not when they were kids. The men who didn’t may not have good character, prone to be grumpy and ornery, maybe even mean to their dog.

Those men who hunted squirrels as a boy are men to be trusted, and you’ll find them to be happy and generous to a fault… a lot like me. I think it was squirrel hunting that made me what I am today. If, when you were young, you had a good squirrel dog, you are likely  successful and happy and avoid politics and politicians altogether.

Studies done at the University of Missouri when I was there trying to get my wildlife management degree clearly show that the best of our presidents, including Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman and Reagan, all hunted squirrels as boys and were honest to a fault. Can you imagine any of those men coming home and telling their folks that some hunter on a nearby ridge had shot at them and caused them to duck and run for cover that very afternoon?

Truthfulness. That’s the mark of an old time squirrel hunter and that’s one reason why this column is so honest. Honestly, there are a bunch of walnuts up here loading the walnut trees on Lightnin’ Ridge, enough so that I will most likely be able to load up $14 or $15 worth of them in the back of my old pickup in just one afternoon if I can get Gloria Jean to help me.

Gloria Jean certainly did NOT hunt squirrels when she was young. She lacks the ability to understand why a pick-up load of walnuts is worth the work. But that pick-up load of walnuts, hauled over to Hammons Walnut factory in Stockton, will buy me a box of three-inch magnum, twelve gauge, number three, Winchester steel-shot duck loads. If I convert that box of shells into four or five big old greenhead mallards in December, that means that the walnuts wind up providing two really good suppers, that don’t cost a dime.

Only four or five mallards is a worse-case scenario. I have been known to kill 20 or so mallards with one box of shells, all flying, or just about to fly. My grandpa insisted that we did not shoot sitting ducks when I was a kid. He said to always shoot them when they were “about to fly”. That way they all had their heads up and you didn’t waste as much shot. If grandpa could have sold walnuts back then like I can now, he probably could have eaten ducks every day of the week for two or three months on just one pick-up load.

But duck season is a long way off and so is walnut picking weather. There will be a lot of them this year because if you have noticed, squirrels will not touch a walnut with a green hull. That should be easily understood; just taste a green walnut hull sometime. Green walnut hulls can be used to stain a white t-shirt so dark you can wear it when you squirrel hunt. In fact, back before we had Mossy Oak and all those different kinds of camouflaged shirts you can now buy at a sporting goods store for two pick-up loads of walnuts, old-timers I knew used walnut hulls to permanently dye their hunting shirts, which is what each shirt became after it was too worn to wear to church.

And there’s something else you can do with walnut hulls. You can take a washtub down to the crick and fill it with fresh water, then throw mashed up walnut hulls in a little eddy and watch sunfish and minnows of all kind come to the surface. Walnut hulls make it impossible to breathe underwater. If you grab them quick and put them in the fresh water tub they will recover and you can use them for late summer trotline bait. But if there is a bass or two in that little hole you dump hulls in, you had better get him upstream quickly or he will die. So will frogs and crawdads. This would not work now on the creeks I knew as a boy because most of them have dried up.

But back to squirrel hunting. If you are a kid reading this and you want to amount to something when you grow up, you might want to hunt some squirrels now before you outgrow the urge to eat fried squirrel or try squirrel and dumplings. Getting old enough to afford ham and beans will do that to you.

Well into the early fall, you can go out in the woods early in the morning and find squirrels with your ears. Just listen for the sound of squirrel teeth gnawing away on a hickory nut. This is something you kids can hear a hundred yards away if you haven’t started hunting ducks yet and firing off those high-powered duck shells. Remember, too, that after you get a car and put in those big loud speakers and play that awful stuff kids today call music, you aren’t going to be able to hear a squirrel 20 yards away if he is sitting on a limb blowing a moose call.

So hunt squirrels before you get a driver’s license and the effect of it will be to make you a better man. One of the reasons for this I think is the fact that a kid in the woods alone talks to God. I did. I remember asking God to help me get a limit of squirrels, just once, or to help me find my way back home, or to please keep anyone from stealing my bicycle where I had parked it off some gravel road next to the squirrel woods. I asked him to help me get a girlfriend and to help me win the snooker tournament.

Little by little we got to talking about some more serious things and I got the idea that I was talking to someone real, that knew all about me. If it hadn’t been for those years as a boy in a johnboat on the river all alone, or hunting squirrels all alone I don’t know that God and I would have ever had a really serious conversation just between the two of us and I might have ended up being so honest. I might have become a lawyer, or maybe a politician. Come to think of it, most all politicians started out as lawyers. You can find parallels to that in the wild, like a skunk and a polecat here in the Ozarks… they are the same thing.

I hope I have influenced some young country boys with all this. The message is, hunt squirrels in the hickories late this summer, talk to God a little while you are out there and listen. Listen for Him to talk to you. At the very least, you will hear squirrels chewing on hickory nut hulls. As a result, you’ll tend to be honest as you grow older and therefore the chances of you becoming a lawyer is very, very slim.